Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.”Show all mail to supervisor for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green. [...]
“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, who started a computer crimes unit in the fraud section of the criminal division of the Justice Department and worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.” 1
Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy. “Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said. [...]
“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, [...] But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.” [...]
Law enforcement officials need warrants to open the mail, although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement 2Ã‚Â in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases.